x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Southern Israelis say truce with Hamas was 'a mistake'

Residents of Israel's southern areas that were targeted by hundreds of Gaza rockets in the past week say israel should have launched a ground incursion into the enclave instead of halting the operation.

ASHOD, ISRAEL // Residents of Israel's southern areas that were targeted by hundreds of Gaza rockets in the past week said yesterday that the truce was a mistake.

Koby Shamsian, 37, a lawyer from the southern coastal city of Ashdod, where 190 rockets fired by Gaza militants landed since Israel began a massive military campaign of mostly aerial strikes last week, was adamant that Israel should have launched a ground incursion into the enclave instead of halting the operation.

Mr Shamsian, sitting in his parents' two-storey house just metres away from the tiny bomb shelter downstairs, to which his family had scrambled more than three dozen times during the hostilities, said: "I don't believe in a truce with Hamas - we have already learnt that it's one-sided and that they'll violate it. They'll just keep massacring us."

Indeed, just hours after clinching Wednesday's Egypt-mediated pact with Hamas, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu faced an overwhelming wave of condemnation from many Israelis - especially those in the south whose years-long pressure on the government to act against the continuous rocket barrages that had at least partly spurred the military campaign.

A poll publicised late on Wednesday, just after the announcement of the truce, by Israeli television's channel 2 showed that 70 per cent of Israeli Jews oppose stopping the operation at this point.

That sentiment appeared to be strongest among communities within 40 kilometres of Gaza, which had appeared like ghost towns during the rocket barrages as residents either huddled at home or left to central and northern Israel to escape the attacks.

At a bakery in central Ashdod, some 30 kilometres from Gaza, Sylvia Shanami, the owner, condemned the truce and said Israel should have acted more aggressively during its military operation in Gaza in 2008, which killed about 1,400 Palestinians. "They should have finished the job in 2008 and eliminated Hamas then," said Ms Shanami, 58, who had hidden under a steel table in the bakery's back room during the rocket attacks.

Next door, Tzvika Itolovich also angrily criticised the ceasefire. "If we don't finish Hamas in one blow, they'll finish us," he said, pausing from arranging bananas in a cardboard box outside the fruit and vegetable store where he works.

Many southern Israelis said they would have been willing to live under a longer period of rocket attacks if Israel had decided to use more military might against Hamas.

Normal life has been paralysed in southern Israel during the eight-day assault on Gaza. Residents' only goal was to escape the rocket fire that had hit apartment buildings, cars and schools, killed five Israelis and wounded more than 200 others, according to the Israeli army.

At Mr Shamsian's home, his sister Sapir had counted with a red marker on a grapefruit juice cardboard box in the blast shelter the number of times the family had sprinted there every day, with the most being 12 last Friday.

To try to anticipate sirens in Ashdod, the family was constantly listening for a buzz from an iPhone, where a new application called "Color Red" - invented by a 13-year-old Israeli boy - notified when and where each rocket was headed, based off the government's public warning alerts.

"The rockets are often fired first on the southernmost communities before heading northwards, so we know when to be on alert for a siren," said Mr Shamsian.

Some Israelis had taken measures to adjust to life under rocket fire.

Oshra Lerer, 49, a government employee, said she does not take any chances when she hears an air-raid siren.

In her seventh-floor apartment, from which she can see Gaza, Ms Lerer had kept all the windows open to assure she heard the sirens that give her only 40 seconds to scramble to her bombproof room; she avoided frying food on her stove in case she forgot to put the flame out during a siren; and in her car she kept a blanket on which she lay facedown on the road in case a siren blared while she was driving.

Ms Lerer says she is terrified about the possibility that Israel's operation will have failed to curtail the rocket fire.

"Hamas will keep on rearming itself with new weapons - they are already reaching Tel Aviv and Jerusalem with their rockets. It scares me that my kids and grandkids will have to live with rocket fire forever."